, ,

The Plot: 16-year-old Alianne (Aly) of Pirate’s Swoop may be the daughter of Alanna the Lioness–a legendary knight–but she’s not a warrior. She not even much of a lady. She wants to be a spy, like her father George Cooper, the King’s spymaster. Her parents, however, have other plans. They want Aly to be a proper Tortallian lady. They want her to pay attention in school, to meet a nice, normal boy, grow up, get married and run a noble household.

But everyone’s expectations for Aly’s life go topsy-turvy when Aly is kidnapped and sold as a slave in the Copper Isles–a tumultuous island kingdom west of Tortall. Aly becomes a slave in a prominent noble house, and she makes plans to escape and return to Tortall… until a mysterious Trickster god makes Aly an offer she can’t refuse.

The Characters: Aly is different from any other Tortall shero–ever. The rest (Kel, Alanna, even Daine) are warriors. Daine isn’t a soldier (something she mentions herself in a conversation with Kel), but she is a warrior. When push comes to shove, she’ll use her bow (or her magic) to fight. But Aly is different. Aly is sly. Clever. Internal. Aly is… well, she’s a lot like Veronica Mars. She collects people for later use. It sounds manipulative, but when you’re a spy, you have to use others to do your dirty work.

The friends she makes along the way are equally interesting and varied. Dove (13) and Sarai (16) are the two eldest daughter’s of Aly’s new owners. They are part raka (the dark-skinned Islander natives) and part luarin (lighter-skinned, Eastern invaders who rule the Isles). Dove is sharp, patient and mature–a far cry from her passionate, beautiful, impulsive older sister. Nawat, who becomes one of Aly’s closest friends (and the only person she can trust), is a man who used to be a crow… and he makes a very crow-like man.

And then there’s Kyprioth. Oh, Kyprioth. Kyprioth is the patron god of the Copper Isles, and, as a Trickster god, he’s difficult to trust. But he acts as a surrogate father-figure for Aly (since in the Copper Isles she’s far from her own father). The other members of the house–the raka slaves and the luarin nobility–come into greater play in the second book, so I’ll get to them next week!

The Good: Like I mentioned earlier, Aly is different from any other shero. Tamora Pierce commented once that Aly was difficult to write because she’s slippery. The other heroines solve problems by hitting them with a stick, but Aly (like the game of baseball) is 90% mental and 10% physical. She can handle herself in a fight, but it’s partially because she’s damn hard to catch hold of. Reading one of Aly’s books (especially after I read Alanna or Kel), is refreshing because she’s so unique.

Pierce also tackles a fascinating, hot button societal question: race and conquest. The Copper Isles were inhabited (and ruled by) a dark-skinned, native people called the raka… until the luarin (light-skinned people) arrived and subdued the native population. If it sounds familiar, it should, because it’s how Europeans treated the native people of South and Central America for a good… four hundred years. Aly finds herself thrown into a hot bed of rebellion, when she learns that the raka population wants to overthrow the luarin throne and put a raka queen in power.

The Bad: So sometimes Aly can be annoying. She’s supposed to be a spy, but she is horrible at blending in and pretending to be docile. It goes against her character, so she’s definitely a consistent character, but it makes her kind of a crappy spy. She hits her stride in the second book, Trickster’s Queen, when she starts creating a network of spies and Aly herself gets to sit back and run her people like a tiny, red-headed general.

The Verdict: I adore Aly, and I adore her story. Annoyingness and poor blending traits aside, she’s quirky, sharp and energetic. I love her friends, and I love that she’s not a warrior, because… I’m not a warrior either. I mean, I’m not a spy, but personality-wise Aly (with a healthy helping of Daine and a dash of Beka) is closer to my personality than Kel or Alanna ever would be. Daughter of the Lioness is one of my favorite series–it’s only two books long, but those two books contain as much action, adventure and romance as an entire quartet.